Inner London likely to overtake post-industrial Valleys towns as Britain's unhealthy hotspots.
Wales' unwanted dominance of the sickness league tables could soon become a thing of the past, health researchers claimed last night. The latest 'health map' put together by market researchers suggests communities in South Wales are still the unhealthiest places to live in the UK, taking eight of the first 10 places. But although Valley areas in particularly have long held such unwelcome titles, the researchers suggest they will soon be overtaken by inner-city areas. Poor diet and a growing obesity crisis in deprived urban boroughs will eventually become a worse social problem than the post-industrial traumas seen in South Wales, they suggest - and put more pressure on the NHS.
Merthyr Tydfil is currently top of the 'group one' list of the 10, closely followed by the likes of Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot.
A second group with severely unhealthy lifestyles likely to cause serious illness is dominated by inner-city areas of London.
Market researchers CACI and TNS use a combination of official data, the census and surveys to put local authority areas into four groups. They warn that the health service must prepare for a 'time bomb' caused by widespread unfit and unhealthy lifestyles.
The Assembly Government said it was working to help people lead healthier lives, and said tackling the long-term legacy of ill- health in deprived areas was one of its top priorities.
Ian Thurman of CACI said, 'The danger for the NHS is that this [second] group could be presenting itself with poor health at a relatively young age.'
He said it was 'inevitable' that these deprived urban areas would replace South Wales communities as the latter get over the health legacy of heavy industry.
'It looks like we have got a set of attitudes to food that look fairly entrenched in terms of fast food and high levels of fat,' he said.
'Group one isn't surprising. It's the classic ex-mining areas, steel works, ship building - all those post-industrial areas. Age will get to those group-one areas in that they are old, retired, unhealthy.'
Other areas predicted to see more health problems include Nottingham and Manchester.
The healthiest places include the City of London and rural areas such as the Isles of Scilly.
Mr Thurman added, 'The NHS is already overburdened, but this is nothing compared to the time bomb that is set to explode if people don't make major changes to their current lifestyles.
'This analysis goes beyond simple measurement of existing health patterns and identifies where early intervention can be most effective in reducing future illnesses.
'This means health care and support can be developed for small communities where ill-health prevention activities can be accurately targeted.'
The Welsh Assembly Government said it had been encouraging people to take better care of themselves and identified smoking as one of the biggest causes of chronic illness.
A spokeswoman said, 'Wales has a history of ill health and chronic conditions due mainly to its industrial past. Tackling poor health and health inequalities is a key priority for the Assembly Government. 'We have invested significantly in a range of initiatives to help eradicate unacceptable health inequalities, for example food co-ops and the introduction of free prescriptions in April this year. 'We are encouraging children to take care of themselves, teaching valuable health lessons that they can carry through to adulthood through initiatives in schools such as free healthy breakfasts, fruit tuck shops and water coolers, and the Cooking Bus which teaches children and parents about cooking healthy nutritious foods.': Local authorities which top the ill-health tables:Tables from the report by CACI and TNS showing the 10 local authorities with the highest occurrence of each of the four categories. Group One High levels of serious illness and poor diet and consumption patterns 1 Merthyr Tydfil 2 Easington (Durham) 3 Rhondda Cynon Taf 4 Neath Port Talbot 5 Blaenau Gwent 6 Caerphilly 7 Bolsover (Derbyshire) 8 Torfaen 9 Bridgend 10 Carmarthenshire Group Two High levels of severely unhealthy lifestyles likely to lead to serious illness 1 Tower Hamlets 2 Hackney 3 Southwark 4 Lambeth 5 Nottingham 6 Newham 7 Islington 8 City of Kingston upon Hull 9 Corby (Northants) 10 Manchester Group Three Generally healthy but with some potentially unhealthy lifestyle traits 1 Wokingham (Berks) 2 Chiltern 3 Mole Valley (Surrey) 4 Hart (Hants) 5 Surrey Heath 6 Elmbridge (Surrey) 7 East Renfrewshire 8 St Albans (Herts)9 South Bucks 10 East Dunbartonshire Group Four Good health with few lifestyle issues 1 Isles of Scilly 2 Eden, Cumbria 3 Orkney Islands 4 City of London 5 Ealing 6 Mid Suffolk 7 Hammersmith and Fulham 8 Ryedale (N Yorks) 9 Wandsworth 10 East Cambridgeshire